The Pain of Wrong-Site Surgery

Topic: Surgery
Words: 553 Pages: 2

The article discussed in this post concerns medical errors, particularly those of wrong-site surgery. Across the United States, surgeons occasionally make mistakes that can severely harm the patient, such as confusing the left and right sides or performing an operation on the wrong person. Moreover, hospitals will often conceal such malpractice, choosing not to report it (which is not mandatory) and settling with patients out of court. The authors discuss multiple potential ways of making doctors and hospitals comply with safety rules and eliminating such accidents despite their resistance.

Surgeons are only part of the problem, as their opposition to outside control is often informed by a desire for autonomy and an underestimation of their potential for error. Per Boodman (2011), the issue of integrity lies with the hospitals, which prefer to minimize publicity surrounding accidents that happen in them despite the broader consequences. There is no legal obligation for them to do so, and most incidents can be settled privately, which also tends to be less costly. As a result, doctors are underinformed about medical error rates, not recognizing the dangers adequately until they make a mistake.

Wrong-site surgery is a classic case of medical malpractice, which is not a criminal offense in most cases. Moreover, it is generally the result of an error rather than an intentional action and is unavoidable to some extent. As such, making every case of wrong-site surgery a criminal offense would be counterproductive. The threat of financial liability and loss of career should already be adequate to motivate doctors to take measures to avoid mistakes wherever possible. With that said, to do so, they need to be accurately informed about the risks and dangers to prepare responses.

I chose to respond to this story because it illustrates the issues prevalent in error prevention in the medical industry. Risk is inherent in it, and it is highly challenging to control and minimize the dangers. The legal system does not offer adequate protection to patients (Boodman, 2011), and hospitals are not incentivized to introduce protections. Wherever decisions to impose control on doctors are made, they are resented as authority-limiting. Measures to impose protections that convince surgeons to abide by them before they make a life-ruining mistake are required.

In my clinical setting, there are some measures put in place to ensure that mistakes are reported to management. With that said, the purpose of this system is to prepare for lawsuits more than to improve operations with the exception of extreme cases. To my knowledge, cases of malpractice are rarely reported outside of the hospital, and it prefers to settle matters with patients who have been affected privately. The same consideration applies to wrong-site surgery, incidents of which typically only become known in the hospital because surgeons who commit it are typically put on leave.

Overall, wrong-site surgery is a problem that hospitals and the government have failed to address adequately. The former have little reason to invest in doing so, given surgeon resistance, and the latter overly relies on the legal system, though efforts have been made to improve the situation. With that said, measures have been proposed that may address the problem effectively by making such cases more public. Their adoption needs to be considered in practical scenarios in terms of effectiveness and challenges that may arise.


Boodman, S. G. (2011). The pain of wrong-site surgery. The Washington Post. Web.

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